Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Schools’

To Whom Shall We Go?

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Let me share my latest Catholic New York column with you on Catholic elementary schools in the archdiocese. I look forward to seeing our beloved schools grow.

A brief excerpt:

The archdiocese will always support our schools. This decision is not made so “the archdiocese can fill its coffers.” The money saved will be reinvested in our schools and other crying pastoral needs: youth ministry, Catholic Charities, pro-life, marriage and family, religious education, our seminary, new parishes—and expanded, stronger schools.

You can read the rest of the article here.

To Whom Shall We Go?

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Are they worth it?

That’s the looming question we often hear about our Catholic schools, elementary and secondary.

Even many fans of our schools, who support and promote them, are at times tempted to sigh and wonder, “Yes, we know they educate more effectively, catechize better, and form character well, but . . . given their heavy financial weight, are they worth it?”

Last Friday I spent a good chunk of the day at one of our stellar Catholic secondary schools, Kennedy Catholic High in Somers, Westchester County.

As I drove in, I admired the magnificent campus, with a new football field described as the best in the area.  I would later hear of their competitive baseball, track, basketball, football, and hockey teams.  The building itself has won architectural awards for its eco-friendliness, and the school rightly boasts that it was dedicated by none other than Jacqueline Kennedy, only a few years after her husband’s assassination, and Cardinal Francis Spellman.

At the door to greet me was the chair of the board of the school, Mr. Joseph Costello, his wife, and devoted members of the board.  Each of our archdiocesan high schools (there are other private Catholic high schools, mostly governed by religious orders, which, while wonderfully Catholic, are not considered “archdiocesan”), is now juridically governed not by the archdiocese, but by independent boards, in line with the principle of subsidiarity, so revered in Catholic social thought, that the “closer to home” the administration of any institution is, the better it is.

Mr. Costello, and the school’s respected principal, Father Mark Vaillancourt, told me good news:  the freshman class was the largest in years, and the enrollment for the entire school was up.  The school had finished last year financially in the black, because of creative marketing, strong board leadership, vigorous parental involvement, and support from the parish priests of the area, most of whom were all there for the visit.

Then into the door.  (No security detectors or guards, by the way).  There to greet me were smiling, courteous student leaders, obviously excited about their school, all so spiffy, boys in dress shirt and tie, girls in school uniform.

And there was another Person there: Jesus, the Teacher.  There was His prominent picture, dominating the entrance foyer, with the prayer, “Jesus, I trust in Thee” underneath; there He was on His cross; there He was as an infant in the arms of His blessed Mother, whose statue was prominent; there He was, really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, in the chapel in the entrance foyer, where Mass is offered daily by Father Mark Vaillancourt or the newly appointed Chaplain, Father Matthew Newcomb, (If I can find two other priests named “John” and “Luke” to go there, I’ll send them!) who described for me the retreat program, opportunities for apostolic service projects, and ample availability of the sacrament of penance for the nearly six-hundred students.

On to many of the classrooms.  Father Mark Vaillancourt told me of the school’s soaring SAT scores, and that every graduating senior last year went on to college, with the class earning over $12,000,000 in scholarships.  No wonder Kennedy has such a high academic reputation!  The classrooms were clean, bright, technologically up-to-date, with teachers eager to tell me of their courses, and students who were quiet, orderly, and rose to their feet out of respect when we entered.  The library and labs looked state-of-the-art.

One of the rooms I entered was in the  midst of religious class.  There on the board were words like “monotheism,” “the one true God of Abraham,” “Judaism, Christianity, Islam,” “all God’s children,” lessons which sure seemed timely and welcome today.  The Bible, the Catechism, the crucifix, the American flag were prominent.

Sister Mary Christopher, a Sister of the Divine Compassion, the religious order which has been a cherished part of this school from the start, told me how each day began with a communal prayer for the entire school.

I was fascinated by the demanding science programs, math classes, (two areas not my favorite), and showed more interest, I must admit, in the history syllabus, writing and grammar courses, and programs of fine arts and drama.  A solid, classical education!

Then onto Mass: the students read, sang, and prayed.  Their attentiveness and reverence, the warmth of their welcome, were inspirational!  At the conclusion of the Mass, the students asked me to bless the football for next day’s opening game (Kennedy won, by the way!) and gave me a team jacket (which I wore Sunday when I blessed the new Giants Stadium — and they won, too!).

Afterwards I visited with the board, faculty, parents, and — very enjoyably — a group of representative students.  Their pride, loyalty, and enthusiasm for Kennedy Catholic High School was contagious!

One of them told me that, earlier, there had been trouble with — pardon me for bringing up a delicate topic — the plant’s septic tank!  Father Mark Vaillancourt, you need to know, happens to have his doctorate in engineering.  So, down he goes, in the “bowels” of the tank, to fix the problem!  Talk about dedication!

For him — and, so clearly, for his faculty, parents, brother priests, board, alumni, and, most importantly, for his students — there’s only one answer to the question, “Are they worth it?”

A ringing yes!

To Whom Shall We Go?

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

When it comes to the Catholic Church, so goes the popular logic, if something happens to make you angry, always blame the Pope (or the Vatican), or the archbishop (or that darn archdiocese).

Every problem in the Church, in this view, whether the decline in Sunday Mass attendance, the closing of a school or parish, or the shortage of vocations, is the fault of the Pope or the archbishop.

That’s because the perception is that the Catholic Church is a “top-down” organization — at least according to most newspapers, magazines, and radio/TV news — where decisions are always secretly made way at the top, and the “little guy” is ignored.  That’s not only true of the secular media.  In a recent edition of a prominent Catholic journal, published in New York, I counted six blasts at bishops and the Pope in the first six pages!

Want some recent examples?

A newspaper on Staten Island blames the recent controversy about the proposed sale of an unused convent to an Islamic group on — guess who? — that autocratic, aloof, mean, clandestine archdiocese!

Sorry, editors, but the Archdiocese does not micromanage.  I trust our pastors, religious, and lay administrators to run the day-to-day details of our nearly 400 parishes, hundreds of schools, healthcare institutions, and charitable programs.

A decision to sell any parish property initially rests with the pastor of the parish, who should act in close concert with his parish and finance councils and must act in close concert with the parish trustees.   In the current case, the pastor concluded after prayerful reflection that the sale would not be in the best interests of his parish and recommended its withdrawal.

But, never mind all this.  The editors know better.  It’s the fault of that mean-old “archdiocese.”

You want another example?  For years, the pastor and people of St. Michael’s Parish have scraped, saved, and sweated to keep their excellent parish high school open.  Even though not one student in the school actually lived in the parish, the pastor and people fought to save their school, giving $400,000 annually to keep it going.

Finally, reluctantly, early in the spring, with only thirty new students enrolled for next school-year, the pastor and parishioners sadly decided they were out of money, and couldn’t do it anymore.  They asked “the archdiocese” to confirm their decision and, after being reassured that every girl could be welcomed at nearby St. Jean Baptiste High School, St. Vincent Ferrer High School, and Cathedral High School, at the same tuition, “the archdiocese” agreed that the good pastor had made the proper, albeit sorrowful, decision.

Who’s to blame?  The alumnae?  The pastor and parish?  Those who did not reply to frequent appeals for new students or donations?

Surprise, surprise!  The nasty, money-hungry, mean-old “archdiocese” is to blame, according to a source in another, this time, Irish newspaper.  See, this source explains, the property of the high school is valuable, so the stingy, money-grabbing, high-handed archdiocese has callously disregarded the kids to get the money.

Had anyone asked, “the archdiocese” would have let him or her know that there were no plans to sell the structure, and that, even if such happened, the money would stay at the parish, not the selfish “archdiocese,” according to Church law.

Experts in leadership style tell us that, as a matter of fact, the Catholic Church is probably the best example around of the principle of subsidiarity; namely, that a decision is best made at the level closest to the people who will have to live with the results.

To be sure, there have been, are, and will be instances where controversial decisions are made by “the archdiocese,” or by me as archbishop.  When that is the case, I’m not about to “pass-the-buck” and blame somebody else.

But, that’s not the case in the two tough situations mentioned above.

Who likes criticism?  Nobody.  But I figure it comes with the job, and have to face it when it’s legitimate.  That happens often enough.

But I don’t like seeing “the archdiocese” blamed for something not its fault.

It’s so easy, popular, juicy — and sells papers — to blame the “corrupt Vatican” and “money-hungry archdiocese.”

It’s just that it’s not accurate.

Hope and Helping Others

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Today is Public Policy Forum Day, sponsored by the New York State Catholic Conference, and the second of two days that I am spending in our state capital, Albany, New York.  I’ve enjoyed getting to meet many of the leaders of our state government, and having the opportunity to discuss with them some of the issues that we believe are of critical importance to the state.  We expect about two thousand Catholics from all around the state, many of them young people, to join us in sharing our concerns with our elected officials.

One of the highlights of Monday was joining with my brother bishops of the state for a meeting with Governor David Paterson.  Many reporters stopped me during the day to ask for my thoughts on the difficulties currently facing the Governor; I was pleased to be able to tell the Governor at the very beginning of our meeting that while we bishops were there to discuss some very serious public policy issues, we were, first and foremost, pastors, and wanted him to know of our prayers for him.  He seemed genuinely grateful.

Archbishop Dolan meets with Governor Paterson in Albany to discuss social issues.

We were happy that the Governor was willing to reexamine the issues related to our Catholic schools.   A full explanation of the education issues can be found here.  He acknowledged that the State did owe Catholic and other religious and private schools reimbursement for what are known as mandated services and that he took that obligation seriously.  The Governor also said that he would look again at the MTA payroll tax; he seemed persuaded when we pointed out that if public schools were entitled to a reimbursement of the cost of the payroll tax, then justice and fairness would demand that religious and other private schools be treated the same.

The Governor was also very properly concerned over the enormous fiscal pressures currently facing our state; we bishops, who are all facing the same pressures in our dioceses, could certainly relate.  While we presented several concrete proposals to him, our underlying message for each of them was the same: during tough economic times, we must do all that we can to make certain that the poor and vulnerable among us are protected.  We must not let the fiscal problems of the state further hurt those who are already suffering.  I believe the Governor shares our concern.

One other highlight from last night.  I had the pleasure of attending the annual Irish Legislators Dinner, and I told those who were present of my admiration for them and the work that they do.  Public service, I said, is a noble profession, but there always seems to be those who seek to drag down those in public life (some deservedly so).  Two qualities are hallmarks of the Irish people:  Hope and helping others.

I urged our public officials, hundreds of them there, not to lose hope, even in tough times, a period of real crisis here in Albany.  The green of Saint Patrick’s Day, I observed, symbolizes hope, the rebirth of spring, the triumph of life over death.  Don’t lose hope, I exhorted them.

And, finally, I complimented our politicians for entering a profession to help people, that second Irish trait.  Yes, I admitted, politicians are under attack, reputations bloodied by the scandalous behavior of a few.  But politics, I assured them, is a noble profession, with helping others as the goal, and honor and honesty as the virtues needed.  And the great majority of them are true helpers of people, who work hard on our behalf.  We thank them.

Photo by Nate Whitchurch